For an unkempt, boxy little joint to last thirty plus years on a gentrified avenue...well, it must be some sort of local record for longevity. But S & D Oyster Company is so old they quote the long lost Dallas Times Herald on their website.
Just how have they managed more than five years in a fickle market? Well, my first thought fell along the lines of "anything fried is good." The restaurant plops oysters, shrimp, balls of dough and such into hot grease...but their hand cut French fries turn out to be sad, floppy and bland things--attributes which seem to satisfy a good portion of the local population, who seem unaware that potatoes crave a thorough blanching. S & D's hush puppies also lack any real character other than a gentle, sweet surge followed by an oily backwash. The fried cornmeal needs either a bitter snap from onion or the satisfying crunch of a well-cooked crust.
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Can't be be any yearning for a sample of New Orleans flavor, either. Their version of gumbo, for instance, crosses several traditional boundaries without fully satisfying any one classic style. Not that hard and fast rules exist for this stew, really. But no Andouille, file and okra with shellfish, skimping on the slimy vegetable, no rice...Their interpretation is fine; it just seems to miss whatever target they were aiming for.
No, S & D thrives because of friendly, casual appointments and plates of reasonably priced oysters. Here they redeem their fried prowess, as well. Packed in a brittle shell, the meaty bivalves release an acrid, tinny flavor similar to smoked shellfish, but with a sweeter edge. When paired against their Matagorda sauce, a cool and smooth character emerges from the cornmeal crust, seemingly in response to the dip's rush of tangy heat.
Even their fries find a purpose when slashed through the Matagorda, supporting a wave of fire that swells, slowly and imperfectly, yet somehow just right.
My waiter on one visit bragged about this sauce. He also appeared to approach life with a quiet, resigned wit that made each pass by my table an experience--quick, memorable nothings traded between server and guest...the kind of thing you encounter in a neighborhood local, not your first trip in a long while to one of the city's venerable little joints.